During a trip to Egypt in the 1990s, Dr. Cesar Chelala learned something that was a cross between horrifying and hard-to-believe. Ninety percent of the women there had undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
You may already know this, but FGM means cutting out a woman’s clitoris. The process is so painful that an adult woman may remember the misery of the procedure for her entire lifetime.
Chalala has a wife and a daughter, and what he was learning about FGM was to his mind, violence against women. Knowing about the pervasiveness of FGM left him forevermore with a heightened sensitivity about how women are treated.
In addition to being a husband and father, Chelala is also a physician and a renowned consultant on international public health. After learning more about the prevalence of FGM, he was primed to be even more sensitive to harms that happen to women, particularly the harm that comes from sex trafficking.
The scourge of sex trafficking is figuratively happening at his doorstep. As he says, “New York City is the sex trafficking capital of the world. As a physician, I know that this is a public health issue because if a woman is being trafficked, she is not a healthy woman.”
Why Aren’t We Doing More about It?
Part of the problem of why we’re not doing more about it is, as he says, “People are not aware of the problem. It’s a silent epidemic, and it’s not obvious to most people unless they go to marginalized areas of big cities.”
He sees the commercial sexual exploitation of children as a growing problem worldwide. For him, the reasons include:
· Increased trade across borders
· Low status of girls
· Lack of education (including sex education) of children and their parents,
· Inadequate legislation and poor law enforcement
· The eroticization of children by the media, “a phenomenon,” he says, “which is increasingly seen in industrialized countries.”
What Can Individuals Do?
Chelala feels that our current system of incarcerating prostitutes doesn’t solve the problem. Instead, he says, “A victim-centered human rights approach is the best possible strategy to address this problem. Its focus should be punishing the exploiter and protecting and rehabilitating the child.”
He also admires what UNICEF is doing in calling attention to children’s exploitation and in addressing its root causes. “UNICEF provides economic support to families so that their children will not be at risk of sexual exploitation. Also, it improves access to education — particularly for girls — and is a strong advocate for children.”
If you’d like to do something concrete right now, Chelala recommends donating to UNICEF.